Hamlet Act III Sc iii Essay

This essay has a total of 893 words and 5 pages.


Hamlet Act III Sc iii





This scene is a dramatic peak in which both Claudius and Hamlet acknowledge their
respective dilemmas. The King faces the question of how to repent and so save himself, at
least, from spiritual damnation. Hamlet’s theological problem with killing Claudius
becomes yet another hurdle and he becomes increasingly trapped by his own indecision.

Claudius makes his first admission of regicide in this soliloquy. He uses disease imagery,
continuing the motif, heightening our awareness of the terrible thing he has done. The
King refers to the ‘primal eldest curse’, an allusion to the Biblical story of Cain and
Abel. This parallel is apt, not only because they were brothers, it represents a terrible
sin against God -- in this case because the natural order has been violated. There is no
evidence to suggest Claudius was particularly pious prior to this crime, but the need for
Grace in the eyes of God would have been very important to him. Ironically he is unable to
pray, for forgiveness, because his ‘stronger guilt defeats my [Claudius’] strong intent’.
His intent could also be his original desire for kingship, meaning that his guilt is so
severe he can’t appreciate the rewards.

Curiously the strength of his language, regarding his crime, is only matched by Hamlet.
Claudius is under pressure, both from his conscience and Hamlet’s cloak of madness which
threatens to unmask him. Just prior to this soliloquy he was arranging for the removal of
Hamlet to England, this erases one of the threats to him. Forgiveness is also important to
him to safe guard his spiritual future. However it seems unlikely he is as calculating as
this and he may well be sincere.

The King’s apparently acute sense of guilt helps him to realise that it is impossible to
‘be pardoned and [still] retain th’offence’. He is aware that in worldly terms he can
survive, using his power to ‘shove by justice’. His inability to pray troubles him deeply
and he is, at first, unable even to kneel. His cries to heaven allude to the Biblical idea
of sin causing a separation between man and God.

Both Hamlet and the King are involved with acting rôles. The former pretends to be insane
and the latter lives the lie of his brother’s death. Claudius seems to have absorbed this
pretence and has become so conditioned to it that he is unable to feel anything for his
dead brother. Hamlet is similarly frustrated that his passionate desire for revenge has
ebbed away, again this links the two characters.

Hamlet also faces a theological dilemma. To his eyes the King is silent in prayer and to
kill him at that point would probably send him to heaven -- the last thing Hamlet wants.
Hamlet is also only too aware that his own father is in Purgatory because he wasn’t
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